Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Chef Mikel Badiola of Element at Amara Hotel

His boyish charm had us all at hello. Always armed with a welcoming smile, his English still has the unmistakable Spanish accent, and was almost hard to make out at times.

Despite that, Chef Mikel Badiola had us engaged both with his personality, and his food for the entire evening. Mikel has recently joined the ranks of Element as their Chef de Cuisine.

At the newly renovated Element along Tras Street, the buffet outlet has now split into 2 sections, one still churning out more than respectable buffet fare, while the alfresco section is turned into a watering hole of sorts.

The bar was certainly lively and buzzing with an expectant crowd, and with a DJ pumping out dance tunes throughout the night, it is no wonder the place is crowded with gorgeous looking people.

Spanking new Element

As for the buffet section, Element has always been producing good stuff. The seafood is fresh and has a wide array of selection. The hot dishes are a mix of local and international flavors, and the usual suspects of sushi and cold entrees do not disappoint.

But what is new and exciting is Chef Mikel's new range of Basque inspired dishes that will both delight and surprise the majority of us. Although just 22, Mikel displayed a potential far beyond his young age.

Cod Fish Bechanel in Piquillo Pepper

Most of his food is of the comforting nature. Take this cod fish bathed in a bechamel and piquillo pepper for example. The sweetness of the cod was offset by the rich luxury of the bechamel, and finished with the brightness of the piquillo pepper, it had a subtle balance of flavors.

Toast with Tomato and Iberico Ham

I loved cured ham, especially from Spain. Served on top of a simple toast and tomato, the acidity of the tomato was just right to cut through the delicious fatty flavors of the beautifully cured ham. With the toast adding the crucial element of crunch, it was and will always be a perfect starter for me.

Spanish Omelette

When done perfectly, a Spanish omelette will look amazing and taste heavenly. The combination of potatoes, onions and egg is the ideal flavor profile. Here, it certainly looked perfect enough. As for the taste, it was a tad lacking in balance as I felt there was too much starch and too little onions and egg to balance the flavors and the texture. Still, it was enjoyable on it own.

Basque Fish Soup with Burnt Bread

Do no let the burnt bread scare you off. It was not actually burnt, but a roasted bread that had been mixed into a pot of nicely cooked fish stock. The resulting soup might look a bit dark for its color, but the flavor was both new and refreshing. The sweetness of the fish broth, coupled with toasted bread flavor took a while to get used to, but eventually it won me over with its comforting tone.

Squid with Tartar Sauce

Chef Mikel explained that back where he came from, folks there prefer their fried squid to be less crunchy but more fleshy. Knowing that Asians prefer crunch more, he has adjusted a compromise to include more crunch in his batter but retaining the succulence of the squid texture. I personally like it this way, as I could taste the squid much better, and the the flesh was indeed more succulent and juicy.

Suckling Pig

Similarly, Mikel has also made a more crispy suckling pig to cater to the local palate here as well. Coupled with a duo of spicy sauce and savory gravy, it was a suckling pig that still had a certain crispy skin but a more delicious meat underneath.

While I still prefer the suckling pig from Serenity more, this was still a very good effort put up by Mikel and for suckling pig lovers, this will be a very refreshing change from what you are normally used to.

The New Element

Chef Mikel has just joined the Amara and Element team for a few months, and he is here with his better half, who is also working here as a server. Mikel is a jovial lad, taking his time to do each dish for his diners and coming out to explain each dish and its origins.

There is a certain enthusiasm and optimism that exuded from his face that was both engaging and uplifting at the same time. It takes enormous courage to travel halfway around the world to work in a foreign place where the culture and the people are new.

More importantly, Mikel has a talent for creating authentic Basque inspired food and while he still has some ways to go to becoming a master chef, there are signs that he can make it big. As with all good things, I think Mikel can mature and as he gains more experience over time, his cooking will definitely go to the next level of artistry.

Element and Element at Tras Street
Amara Hotel 1st Level

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